Ohmigod - it's Congress vs. Bush, in a big fat stand-off over war-funding, and who will blink first?
Fuck me with a blowdryer. We may have our first do-or-die government crisis about the Iraq War soon. Looks like Bush will get a war-funding bill on his desk with a pull-out-of-Iraq date certain on it (March or September 2008) -- which he’ll have to veto. That means there’ll be no money for his war. Then there’ll be a face-off between him and the Democratic Congress -- and who will back down first? Somehow Bush has to get a bill he can sign if he wants money for the troops. And somehow the Democrats are in no mood to give him a bill unless there’s a pull-out date on it.
Remember when the government shut down because Newt Gingrich and Pres. Clinton clashed, and there was no money to run the government? Clinton won that one. Will the war shut down while Bush and the Dems clash? Get ready for Mighty Big Fireworks, Folks.
1. Senate Backs a Pullout Date in Iraq War Bill – by JEFF ZELENY and CARL HULSE/NY Times
WASHINGTON , March 27 — The Senate went on record for the first time on Tuesday in favor of a withdrawal date from Iraq, with Democrats marshaling the votes they needed to deliver a forceful rebuke to President Bush’s war policy.
By a vote of 50 to 48, with a few crucial votes shifting in favor of the Democratic position, the Senate rejected a Republican effort to strip from the military spending bill any mention of a withdrawal date. The legislation will now move forward with a nonbinding goal of beginning a gradual withdrawal of American troops from Iraq within 120 days of the measure’s enactment, with a pullout by March 31, 2008.
“When it comes to the war in Iraq, the American people have spoken, the House and Senate have spoken,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “Now, we hope the president is listening.”
Senators still must vote on the overall legislation this week, and then their bill must be reconciled with a House measure passed Friday. The House voted 218 to 212 for a binding measure requiring the president to bring most American combat troops home from Iraq by September 2008.
A few minutes after the vote on Tuesday in the Senate, the White House repeated its vow to veto any legislation containing a withdrawal date. The Senate action increases the likelihood that Congress and Mr. Bush will engage in a confrontation over the financing of the war.
The outcome of the Senate vote took both parties by surprise. Republicans were stung by the defection of Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who has not supported a timetable for withdrawal before although he is his party’s most outspoken critic of the war in Congress.
“There will not be a military solution to Iraq,” Mr. Hagel declared. “Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. It doesn’t belong to the United States. Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost.”
The Democrats also gained the vote of Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, who voted against a withdrawal date just two weeks ago.
“People want our troops home,” Mr. Nelson said.
The Senate vote was seen as a victory for Democrats, if only because Republicans had already agreed not to stand in the way of the legislation by mounting a filibuster that requires 60 votes to pass a bill. Republican leaders said they preferred to allow Mr. Bush to veto the bill, rather than use procedural maneuvers to block the measure, which would provide $122 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The impassioned debate on Tuesday illustrated that majorities in each party remained hardened in their views. Vice President Dick Cheney, who also serves as president of the Senate, arrived in the Capitol a few minutes before 5 p.m. to be on hand in the event of a tie.
As the debate opened Tuesday, several Republicans spoke forcefully against the notion of setting a specific date — even a nonbinding one — to get troops out of Iraq.
“This bill should be named the Date Certain for Surrender Act,” said Senator John McCain , an Arizona Republican. “A second-year cadet at West Point could tell you that if you announce when the end will be, it’s a recipe for defeat.”
Had Republicans prevailed, the Senate bill would have had no timetable, while the House version required a withdrawal no later than Sept. 1, 2008. Democratic leaders were considering whether they should eliminate the timeline entirely before sending the measure to Mr. Bush, but with both chambers approving a time frame, it is now almost certain a final measure will include some requirements for withdrawal.
Dana Perino, the deputy White House press secretary, said the president was “disappointed that the Senate continues down a path with a bill that he will veto and has no chance of becoming law.”
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and a war critic since the conflict began four years ago, said the combination of the House and Senate votes was momentous. He said it showed how far the Democratic Congress had come toward removing troops since the beginning of the year, adding that political and policy momentum was on their side.
“Rather than continuing to defy the will of the American people and Congress by threatening to veto this legislation,” Mr. Kennedy said, “President Bush should put the Iraqis on notice.”
2. An Antiwar Tide on The Rise -- by E. J. Dionne Jr./Washington Post
Within three weeks, the United States could face a constitutional crisis over President Bush's war policy in Iraq. The president and his allies seem to want this fight. Yet insisting upon a confrontation will be another mistake in a long line of bad judgments about a conflict that grows more unpopular by the day.
Last week's narrow House vote imposing an August 2008 deadline for the withdrawal of American troops was hugely significant, even if the bill stands no chance of passing in the Senate this week in its current form. The vote was a test of the resolve of the new House Democratic leadership and its ability to pull together an ideologically diverse membership behind a plan pointing the United States out of Iraq.
To understand the importance of the vote, one need only consider what would have been said had it gone the other way: A defeat would have signaled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's powerlessness to create a governing majority from a fragmented Democratic membership. In a do-or-die vote, Pelosi lived to fight another day by creating a consensus in favor of withdrawal that included some of her party's most liberal and most conservative members.
The vote is only the first of what will be many difficult roll calls potentially pitting Congress against the president on the conduct of war policy. It confirmed that power in Washington has indeed shifted. Bush and his Republican congressional allies had hoped Democrats would splinter and open the way for a pro-Bush resolution of the Iraq issue. Instead, antiwar Democrats, including Web-based groups such as MoveOn.org, discovered a common interest with their moderate colleagues.
Oddly, the president's harsh rhetoric against the House version of the supplemental appropriations bill to finance the Iraq War may have been decisive in sealing Pelosi's victory. "The vehemence with which the president opposed it made it clear to a lot of people that this was a change in direction and that it was significant," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Tom Matzzie, the Washington director of MoveOn, saw the Bush effect rallying his own antiwar membership. "Bush is our worst enemy," Matzzie said, "and our best ally."
Now, Van Hollen argues, Bush's "take-it-or-leave-it" approach to the bill is also "hurting the political standing of his Republican colleagues" in Congress by forcing them to back an open-ended commitment in Iraq at a time when their constituents are demanding a different approach.
Bush continued his effort to polarize the debate in his weekly radio address Saturday, condemning the House vote as a "political statement" and urging Congress "to put our troops first, not politics" by sending him "a clean bill, without conditions, without restrictions and without pork."
Bush's threat to veto the House bill might be seen as either safe or empty, because the final compromise that emerges from the House and Senate will be different from the measure passed by Pelosi's majority. But the president's uncompromising language and his effective imposition of an April 15 deadline for the funding bill -- after that date, he said, "our men and women in uniform will face significant disruptions" -- may solidify Democratic ranks without rallying new Republican support.
To the extent that there has been movement in the Senate, the indications are that support for Bush's policy has slipped. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) suggested yesterday that a bill containing a withdrawal provision could eventually reach the president's desk and require a veto. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has often voted with Bush but now favors Senate language that includes calls for withdrawal and benchmarks for judging success.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a longtime Bush critic, issued one of his strongest condemnations of the war over the weekend. "We essentially are ruining our National Guard. We are destroying our Army. We're destroying our Marine Corps," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "We can't sustain this … I will not accept the status quo."
The president's refusal to acknowledge that the country has fundamentally changed its mind on the war makes it impossible for him to work with Congress on a sensible approach to a withdrawal that will happen some day -- with or without a constitutional showdown.